Why “Remove This Cup”?

January 14, 2005 | 32 comments
By

Over the past few days, I’ve been discussing the atonement with a Catholic friend. We’ve been comparing the different ideas our two faiths have (he’s fascinated, for instance, by the primacy that Mormons give to Gethsemane). One issue that has arisen, and that I don’t have a good answer for, is this — why does Jesus ask for the cup to be removed?

After all, Jesus knows that the atonement must take place for mankind to be saved. He knows that he is the only person capable of doing this. He knows his role in the Plan of Salvation. And yet he appears to waver in his resolve, if just for a moment. The scripture states:

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

Is this a rhetorical question? Is this the equivalent of saying “I really really wish I didn’t have to do this”? Or is there an actual request (albeit framed as politely and compliantly as possible) to try to evade part of the Plan of Salvation? And if so, why, and what does that tell us about the Atonement and/or the Plan of Salvation?

Tags: ,

32 Responses to Why “Remove This Cup”?

  1. Duff on January 14, 2005 at 3:07 pm

    I believe it was simply a Son asking his Father if anything in the matter had been withheld from him, such as another way to accomplish the task to the same, desired end. Like, isn’t there some Angel who will come in at the last moment and stay the executioner’s hand as was done with Isaac.

    Realizing that there was not He replied “nevertheless … thy will be done”, and bore the burden with a bravery never before nor since seen in mankind.

  2. danithew on January 14, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    Perhaps the Savior knew there was another way the consequences of the Atonement could be achieved. I don’t know this for sure of course.

  3. JL on January 14, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    I see it as an expression of Christ’s humanity. He was half mortal and he was in excruciating pain. The human response to pain is to ask for relief. That’s what He did. But because of his perfection, he knew better and added the qualifier at the end. I find it comforting, we hear about Christ suffering the pain for all our sins and this is unimaginable to us. We can, however, relate to a man asking his father for relief. It’s evidence that the pain was real and not some metaphorical story, and evidence that it was so great it made God cry and ask for relief. That’s humbling.

    What I’m more interested in is what would have happend had Jesus not said ‘nevertheless thy will be done’. Would God the father have relieved Him?

  4. Peggy Snow Cahill on January 14, 2005 at 3:30 pm

    Well, I can only think of when I had to go through the experience of childbirth. I had prepared for it for nine months, I knew it had to happen, but in some ways I was so terrified that I wanted to not have to go through it. My Lamaze teacher said that a lot of women feel like that, and some even try running out of the hospital, as it it would keep them from having to go through it.

    I guess my point is that although Christ was God, He was also the son of a human mother. When I hear of His asking the Father to “remove this cup” I think he just really was suffering to the point where the human side of Him wished to not have to go through it, even though He knew it had to be, yet still there was some wish that it didn’t have to happen. To me, this makes me realize just how difficult it was for Him to suffer for us, that it was REAL suffering. And yet, He still submitted His own will to that of the Father. I think also that since He said if it be Thy will indicates that He didn’t know precisely everything, that He had the same veil of forgetfulness that we have over our minds, and had to rely on the Father to lead Him along, just as we do. I am touched by His vulnerability and humanity in this line, and inspired by His humility, obedience and sacrifice.

  5. Larry on January 14, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    The symbolism in “this cup” is important in understanding the request. What does the cup represent? What would be the consequences of removing the cup from Him?
    I believe He fully understood His role. Here we have the mortal vs. the eternal in conflict, i.e. opposition in all things. The remarkable part is, the choice was His to make. And in that conflict any thought of self was laid aside.
    As Duff suggested, an angel did come, not to supply a substitute, but to offer comfort. The burden was His and His alone to bear because He was the sacrifice and the substitute.

  6. greenfrog on January 14, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    My thoughts are not necessarily orthodox with respect to some of these questions, but it seems to me that Jesus was not all-knowing at the time he knelt in Gethsemane. What he knew or didn’t know, understood or didn’t understand about the Atonement at that time is far from clear to me, though I’d welcome education in this regard.

    I understand His prayer to be quite straightforward — He could see with reasonable clarity the impending events, and He desired to avoid the suffering that they would cause, if there was a way to do so consistent with what He understood needed to happen.

  7. gilgamesh on January 14, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    I tend to be in greenfrog’s camp. I also wonder if the savior knew “all” or was moving along in faith of his mission. Perhaps he did not have all the details (he did at one time say that he came “not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34) This indicates that he learned about his mission as he lived it. The garden, after he submitted to the Lord, is where he recieved the details – IMHO.

  8. Sheri Lynn on January 14, 2005 at 9:02 pm

    Jesus Christ proved that bad things DO happen to good people.

    I can’t blame the Lord one bit for having wondered if it really had to hurt so very much. It’s a T-shirt most of us have. If they’d had T-shirts back then, I’m sure someone would have given Him one.

    I’d wonder more if He hadn’t flinched one bit.

  9. J. Stapley on January 15, 2005 at 11:00 am

    I think that it had to do with what Jesus got out of the atonement. We know a few things about Jesus’ relationship to the atonement: 1) He was following in the footsteps of the Father. That is to say that it looks as if the atonement is necessary to become a “God the Father”. This could be due to the implications of the atonement on omniscience. 2) Jesus was qualified to take part in the atonement and therefore qualified, not only for the agony, but subsequent glory.

    I tend to think that he got to a point where he might have thought that the agony was not worth the glory, and asked God if there was any other way to save us poor folks. The thing is that because of his love for us, he was willing to endure the agony if it was the only way to save us (making it completely selfless). It was, and he did.

  10. Adam Greenwood on January 15, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    I’m curious, Kaimi. What did your Catholic friend say about the cup?

  11. Mark on January 15, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    Jesus asked the Cup to be removed because of the excruciating pain he was experiencing.

    Danithew: There was no other way for the Atonement to be accomplished. The prophets have said as such from the beginning of time.

    JL: Had God relieved Jesus of the Atonement, we all would have been eternally lost. The Atonement was the only way redemption could have come to us. There was no other way under heaven whereby man may be saved. There was no Plan B. (see Robert J. Matthews in The Man Adam).

    BTW Kaimi, the primary reasons we emphasize Gethsemane have to do with Mosiah 7 and D&C 19. Both of these scriptures (before and after the event respectively) state that Jesus sweat drops of blood. Many Christians doubt Luke’s statement that Jesus literally sweat drops of blood. But we have two latter-day scriptures confirming this was the case.

  12. danithew on January 15, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    Mark,

    You say there was no other way for the Atonement to be accomplished and that the prophets have said as such from the beginning of time.

    Can you give some quotes that say this? Are there scriptures in the canon that say this? I’m willing to be wrong. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that there wasn’t another way for Heavenly Father to achieve this … only that it was Heavenly Father’s will that it be done in this way.

  13. Mark on January 15, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    What would have happened if Jesus had not accomplished the Atonement? Was there then an alternate plan, another savior, a backup man? Some people are of the opinion that there was an acceptable alternate plan, or alternate savior, if Jesus had not fulfilled his mission. This question may seem unimportant or even unnecessary, but it has some strong implications.

    Those who say that there would have been another way to accomplish salvation haven?ft searched out the logical implications of these thoughts. In effect, they are saying that Jesus Christ was a convenience but not an ultimate necessity.

    Acts 4:12, states that: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Others may respond that Peter said this after the atonement and resurrection of Christ were accomplished facts, and that therefore there is now no other way; but if Jesus had failed to make the Atonement, there would have to have been and would be an alternate way.

    But, looking at things chronologically, we find that Moses 6:52 is the earliest known reference stating that there is no other name other than Jesus Christ by which salvation is obtained. In this passage Enoch recounts a conversation between the Lord and father Adam. The Lord tells Adam that he must “be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, . . . which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men.”

    We also have 2 Ne. 25:20 and 31:21. But the very clearest expression of this concept is given by King Benjamin, quoting the words of an angel from heaven: “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ” (Mosiah 3:17).

    Later this same King Benjamin gives some additional particulars: “This is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you.” (Mosiah 4:8, italics added.)

    The value of these passages is that they were spoken before the Atonement had taken place. This gives them an additional force and focus that they might not have if they had been spoken afterwards. (See also Mosiah 5:8; Alma 38:9; Hel. 5:9.)

    With regards to the means whereby salvation was carried out, the question before us now is: Could the same results have been obtained by some other (milder) means? In fact, that was the very question Jesus was asking when he asked if the Cup could pass from him. The father chose not to withdraw it. The reason implied is that had he done so there would have been no way to save the rest of his children without violating some eternal principle. Evidently, it was necessary for a God to be sacrificed. This must be based on a law that didn?ft originate with God.

    Additionally, it is inconceivable that either God?fs justice or his mercy would require more suffering in Jesus?f soul than was absolutely necessary to accomplish the end envisioned. However we may recoil from it, all of it was required.

    Let us remember that Jesus asked three times if the Cup might pass from him. The silence of God in that prayer tells us that it was not possible for other means to be devised for man?fs salvation.

    Since God instituted the Atonement, it must have been necessary or it would never have been ordained; especially if milder means could have been made; for it is inconceivable that either God?fs justice or his mercy would require or permit more suffering on the part of Jesus than was absolutely necessary to accomplish the end proposed.

  14. Kaimi on January 15, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Adam,

    My Catholic friend was even more confused by the statement, once we started discussing it. First, he’s also wondering why there’s this apparent desire to call off the atonement. And a source of additional confusion is that, for him, Jesus _is_ God the Father (three in one, the Trinity), and so the question is essentially Jesus asking himself if he can have the cup removed, but then saying “thy will” (for Trinitarians, equal to “my will”) be done.

    I hadn’t even thought of that before, but, as a conversation of sorts between Jesus the Son and God the Father, it does present some interesting conceptual difficulties for traditional Trinitarians.

  15. Brandon on January 15, 2005 at 9:31 pm

    I should think that the foreknowledge of God would allow him to definitively speak to his prophets through the Holy Ghost with regard to the matter of the Atonement. I think that the “what if?” question doesn’t make any sense since God the Father or the Holy Ghost would testify of the Savior as such if he wasn’t going to fill his mission. Of course, the creation of agency is a pretty difficult concept to understand, but my view is that Christ is the one that was willing and able to make that sacrifice before the world was. The Father must then have known that Christ would be the Savior necessary to eternal progression. We all have to get to the point where Christ is now, so, in that sense, I think that we must all be willing to fill the role of “alternate Savior” if the Lord asked us to do so if we wish to be exalted. That’s all opinion, but it makes sense to me. Progression seems to me to be a combination of “willingness” and “ability”.

  16. Stephen M (Ethesis) on January 15, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    I think that Christ vocalized things for us, to give focus.

    I’ve talked a little about a related concept, why there is suffering at all at http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ — but I think that the vocalization helps us.

    vis.

    The Greek term used for evil in that sermon also means tribulation or misfortune. There is absolutely nothing wrong in desiring to escape the natural man’s tribulation or the natural world’s misfortune and we are permitted (and encouraged) to pray that we might be delivered from the bitter cup of suffering to the extent that it is possible. [Note the example of Matthew 26:39.]

  17. J. Stapley on January 15, 2005 at 11:05 pm

    Brandon: We all have to get to the point where Christ is now

    This is empirically impossible.

  18. danithew on January 15, 2005 at 11:24 pm

    Mark,

    I was anticipating that you might bring up scripture and verses that say there is no other name under Heaven by which we can be saved, except by Jesus Christ. I don’t disagree with these scriptures. I’m just not sure the full extent to which they can be interpreted.

    There are two ways such scriptures could be interpreted. One way is to say that these scriptures signify that Heavenly Father set things up so that we could only be saved by Christ (but that if Heavenly Father had wished, He could have utilized another means that is available to Him).

    The other way it could be interpreted (as you are doing) is to say that these scriptures mean that there is no other way available.

    I am not actually suggesting there was a backup system in place in case Christ failed. That’s not necessarily what I have in mind. Rather, I’m thinking that God planned ahead and ordained Christ for this sacred mission. I’m thinking that perhaps God knew more than way to accomplish the eternal lives of his children if He had willed to do them differently. I’m simply saying he might have had other options or means and yet preferred that things be done as they have been done.

    Again, I don’t know this. But I’m not aware of a scripture that definitively says that God basically had no choice (ever) but to accomplish this through his Only Begotten Son.

    Does that make any sense?

  19. Mark on January 15, 2005 at 11:32 pm

    My contention is that some eternal principle that didn’t originate with God (justice, for example) required a God to be sacrificed.

  20. danithew on January 15, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Mark,

    With your last statement you’re approaching a realm that creates a whole bunch of new questions — and I don’t know how to answer those questions either. Does God make the rules or do the rules make God? What occurs to me is that if the rules make God then in fact the rules are God. But by this point I’m perplexed and utterly unsure of my mental capacity to deal with the question. I am left to say that I believe in God and pray to Him. I think there is a verse that says something like: “The mystery of godliness, how great it is!”

  21. Brandon on January 16, 2005 at 12:03 am

    I think I spoke unclearly in stating that we need to get to the point that Christ is now. What I meant by that is that we must be perfectly filled with the love of Christ and feel that love for all in order to be exalted. So, if we are unwilling to perform the Atonement for others, we aren’t there yet. That’s basically what I meant.

  22. J. Stapley on January 16, 2005 at 12:16 am

    Brandon: Thanks for the clarification, for a second there I thought you doing a Heber C. Kimabll.

    Danithew: This is part of the contention between Orson and Brigham. Moreover, it is the foundation for the modern debate over divine command ethics.

    As per the role of Christ’s agency and the certainty of atonement, that relates to the whole foreknowledge of God debate that is floating around.

  23. Larry on January 16, 2005 at 1:25 am

    Danithew,

    Moses1:6 – Given the time frame in which this scripture was given, and given the use of the present tense “is”, would clearly indicate that only one person was “chosen”, and there were no alternates. It also illustrates that the manner was already set because it was shown to prophets before the event.
    This scripture would also reflect why we were able to so enthusiastically endorse our Father in Heaven’s plan in the pre-earth existence. There were no “ands” “ifs” or “maybes” in it.
    There are no questions as to “who” or “how” or “when” or “where” . These are not, in my mind useful questions, when the scriptures are clear to us as Latter-Day Saints. If others have questions it doesn’t invalidate what we know.

  24. Larry on January 16, 2005 at 1:28 am

    Brandon,

    And you’ll never be there until you are Celestialized. Don’t make the burden of mortality and coming to Christ so difficult that no one can make it. The Saviour never did.

  25. Eric R. on January 16, 2005 at 2:50 am

    I would refer my Catholic friend to The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a book which consists of the transcription of an extended vision from Anne Catherine Emmerich, an nun, in 1823. I don’t know how much weight it has in Catholic doctrine, but they seem to respect it. It is the source from which Gibson derived much of the material in his film.

    One thing Gibson left out that she includes is over twenty pages of Christ agonizing in Gethsemane. She makes it very clear that he did indeed bleed from every pore. She also makes it very clear that it’s in Gethsemane where Christ suffered and paid for the sins of all mankind. Oddly enough, the vision culminated on April 6.

  26. danithew on January 16, 2005 at 9:37 am

    J. Stapley,

    Thanks for bringing up the name “divine command ethics.” This is the first time I’ve heard that phrase but it is certainly useful.

    I followed the link you provided and there were interesting verses and passages of scripture brought up in both the post and the comments. Alma 42 is one of them. The story of Job was another. The scripture that says all good emanates from Christ …

    This is something I’ll have to consider and ponder for awhile.

    Also, I haven’t heard much about the debate between Brigham Young and Orson that you mention.

  27. Larry on January 16, 2005 at 10:56 am

    Danithew,

    You said: “I am not actually suggesting there was a backup system in place in case Christ failed. That’s not necessarily what I have in mind. Rather, I’m thinking that God planned ahead and ordained Christ for this sacred mission. I’m thinking that perhaps God knew more than way to accomplish the eternal lives of his children if He had willed to do them differently. I’m simply saying he might have had other options or means and yet preferred that things be done as they have been done.

    Again, I don’t know this. But I’m not aware of a scripture that definitively says that God basically had no choice (ever) but to accomplish this through his Only Begotten Son.”

    D&C88:13 and 2Ne.2:1-13; 2Ne.11:7 would, in my mind, put that question to rest.
    The office of God is one of atonement (Mosiah15:1-8; Alma11:40; etc.)

    This could go much deeper, but maybe I’m confused as to the nature of this discussion because the questions really don’t make sense to me.
    I guess I need to know more about the debate between Brigham and Orson as well.

  28. J. Stapley on January 16, 2005 at 11:04 am

    danithew: To quote Ostler: “The crux of the conflict was Young’s criticism that Pratt worshipped the attributes of Absolute Being rather than God the person, while in turn, Pratt rejected Young’s ultra-personalistic view of God as an exalted man forever becoming greater in dominion and knowledge.”

    Admittedly, I am philosophically weak. However, I really think that the foundation of this discussion rests on our individual premises of theogony.

  29. Kelly Knight on January 16, 2005 at 11:04 am

    Perhaps we are searching too deep for meaning. The Savior no doubt knew from before the beginning of time the depth of the role he would be called on to play. My wife believes that, while this may be true, he most likely was still learning the role even as late as Gethsemane (I’m not sure about this). One fact is clear, however, the Savior was the prime exemplar of all that is right. In his willingness to submit to the will of the Father, even under such extreme pain and suffering, He taught us that we too must take the attitude of “nevertheless, not my will, but Thine, be done”. (I will be the first to admit that I am not the best at submitting to the will of the Father.)

    Perhaps our search for meaning should be simply this: The Lord was willing, under the most agonizing pain, to submit to the will of the Father. And what is the will of the Father in our lives? That we be obedient to the Spirit. When the Spirit tells us that we really should turn off the TV and have FHE, do it! When the Spirit tells us to fast for 2 meals and make a GENEROUS contribution to Humanitarian Services for tsunami relief, do it!

    Whatever the Spirit directs, if we do it, we will find that we have done the will of the Father, and, as he did with His Only Begotten, he will send his angels to be with us, and strengthen us, and in the end we will be in His presence for eternity.

  30. Jack on January 16, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    I think the will of God is that we love Him. In the end Christ obeyed not merely because it was the Father’s will that He do so, but rather, that the He loved Him enough to do so. At some point in our lives the “test” of obedience must transmute to a test of love because, in the end, love is the only principle by which we can measure our true sensibilities. Anything else only serves to prop us up for a time until we figure out what’s really going on. That’s why I’m beginning to believe (after reading one of Adam’s post on the subject) that Abraham’s sacrifice was really his ultimate expression of love toward God. It becomes gross if it’s anything less than that.

  31. danithew on January 16, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    I had to look up theogony. Here’s the American Heritage Dictionary definition:

    An account of the origin and genealogy of the gods.

  32. danithew on January 16, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    J. Stapley,

    Thanks for providing that description of the dispute between Brigham Young and Pratt. I didn’t know about that dispute previously.

    Larry, I’m reading through those scriptures you’ve provided. I’m not finished yet but I appreciate the references. I may stop questioning the matter here and simply ponder the issue/question on my own for some time.